Designing Digital Products with Disney Parks PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Brandon Reed, Product Manager at Disney Parks, to talk about how Disney Parks is designing digital products for their amusement park Guests.

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Brandon Reed is a PM at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He’s responsible for FastPass, a digital ticket system that eliminates queues on attractions and improves the overall customer experience.

Over the last 6 years, Brandon has built his management career while staying loyal to the Walt Disney Company. He earned the trust and respect of his colleagues and promptly climbed up to his current position, entrusted with the responsibility of leadership over his own team and products. He is also a Certified Scrum Master and Product Owner!

Brandon has also founded Ennovate, a successful web design and development company that’s focused on creating minimalist and user-centered websites. On top of this, he has a number of other side projects, including a self-development application called Lifelist and Heaven Real Estate Solutions.

Designing Digital Products at Disney Parks

How do you ensure your products conform to and are within the vision and principles of Disney?

Disney does a spectacular job of reiterating Walt’s initial vision for Disney as a company, and at the same time adapting to the constantly evolving needs of our Guest’s. It’s hard to go too long here without being reminded of why we do what we do. In an environment like that, the products you build naturally align with the vision of the company as a whole.

That’s oversimplifying it 😄… but I’ve seen this to be true more often than not here.

How do you manage a product that has software aspects but is so ingrained into in-person services and experiences? How do you manage vision and implementation for a cohesive product when it’s about so much more than the software?

Such a great observation. You are hitting on something we struggle through every day here in Tech at Disney. How do we enhance the in-park experience of our Guests through Technology, without removing them from the story and the world we’ve created for them inside of our park and resorts. It’s something we’re always trying to do better.

But to your point about building a cohesive product… it takes close partnership across a variety of Lines of Business both in Technology and those in the park (what we call “Operations”) to ensure that experiences we’re building are not in opposition to the experiences they’re creating in the park. We want to work with our Operations partners to ensure that we’re equipping Guests with tools that allow them to be present at the moment, while also enhancing that moment to make it as magical as possible.

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Do you run Design Sprints at Disney?

We develop in the Agile methodology. But every department I’ve been a part of has been different, to be honest. In my current role, we build individual tickets that are executed by our Design partners, but the Sprints themselves are aligned to Dev scope.

How do you prioritize among unending stakeholder requirements, even when all requirements seem to be important and urgent?

We build first and foremost for the Guest and what will provide the best possible experience for them while in the park and on our properties.

Those waters can get muddy when you’re working with legal or financial partners, to be sure. But my experience here has far and away been that when it’s time to ship a new feature, the Guest’s needs win out.

My family noticed a big difference in our “let’s just go to Disney today” experience when online FastPass became a thing. We had to plan in advance for trips because FastPasses would be gone days before we went. As a PM, how do you think about adding features like online FastPass?

Our primary objective, always, is to provide the best Guest experience possible. If allowing Guests to access FastPass online vs. in the App vs. any other medium helps improve the experience they have interacting with our product, we go after those items on our roadmap first.

Of course, we’re a business. No one can argue that Disney knows how to make money 😆. But in every Product I’ve built here, I have genuinely seen Disney ask the question “how will this help the Guest?” BEFORE asking “how will this help our business?”

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How involved are you with your design organization? Can you describe that relationship? What types of qualities do you as a PM look for in a prospective Product or UX design candidate?

We work extremely closely with our Design team. At Disney, we’re storytellers first, and Product people second. In order to tell a compelling story full of the magic and wonder people know and trust Disney for, we need talented Designers who are able to make our products and features jump off the screen and make real, tangible impact in Guest’s vacation experience.

As a Designer here, you need to know and buy into the Disney brand and IP, wholesale. You need to love Mickey more than anyone and know exactly why he (and all of our characters, movies, franchises, etc.) resonate so strongly with our Guests. If you understand that, you can weave those traits through every design, every interaction… and that truly is when the magic happens.

What are some of the key things you focus on when building customer experiences?

Every employee of the company is called a “Cast Member” because here we’re all part of the story 😊.

The phrase that is drilled into every Cast Member from their first day is….

“We create happiness.”

It, of course, gets more complex and refined than that as different Lines of Business implement that mindset into what they do more specifically. But by-in-large… we build products and experiences that create happiness. Everything else should align directly with that shared objective.

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How do you continue to inspire and motivate your team for a product that has already launched to the market?

In my opinion, it’s absolutely critical that we never lose sight of how the products that we build impact the Guest experience. If we lose sight of that, and we see our products strictly as code, or lifeless functionality, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain it with the same excellence in which we built it.

I try to always remind my teams that what we’re building is allowing Guests to have memories and experiences they’ll take with them forever. Without these projects that we get to be a part of, those memories… those moments…. don’t happen.

I think if that doesn’t motivate a person to maintain a product after launch… nothing will 😊.

What do you see as some of the growth paths for a Product Manager?

One of the most exciting parts of working for an organization as diverse as Disney is that there is literally no limit to the kinds of projects you can work on.

I’ve always believed that it was important for me to work in an environment where the only limit to me satisfying my urge to build was my own curiosity and drive. Disney has provided that in such a huge way.

You can grow vertically here, and you can grow horizontally. I’ve never been told “no” when expressing interest in another part of our business.

The main thing you need to do here, and anywhere, in my opinion, is to continue expressing your natural and genuine curiosity. The right leader will identify that in you and help you progress to the next level.

What tips would you have for a new PM?

The tip I give most often is to not take yourself too seriously. Find a brand that you believe in, can be passionate about, and that associates itself with excellence in everything it does. Get that part right… and you’re off to a great start 😉.

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